Why Whole Life Curriculum?

What does God love about you? Most of us find this question difficult to answer. It touches on the basis of the value of our individual lives. Does God really value my life? If so, why? The answer—both individually and as a culture—has far-reaching effects. This is exactly why we are so passionate about getting this message out to students: You are uniquely and individually loved and valued by God, and He felt this way about you even before you were conceived.

The erosion of human value in America

American society has quietly eroded this message with its legalized choices and considerations: abortion on demand (for reasons ranging from gender preference to potential infant abnormalities), euthanasia, assisted suicide, and embryonic stem cell research. The media has subtly convinced us that there are circumstances that override the value of a person’s life. This is perhaps the most dangerous sort of message because somehow it slips by us. Although no one has blatantly told our children that there are factors that legitimately negate the value of human life, that unspoken message has still filtered down into their thinking and attitudes. And even though we, as followers of Christ, would most strongly oppose this view, we have failed to address it as it has made its way into the culture of young people. We must recognize it, oppose it, and purposefully and deliberately affirm the value of human life.

The resulting impact on students—specifically their choices and their disregard for the value of the lives of anyone who gets in the way of their personal happiness and success—can be found in the evidence of an emergence of school shootings, infant homicide, and violence for the sake of entertainment. When we hear of these incidents, we are caught unaware and in shock. We wonder how we got to this place as a society, as if some alien force had come and twisted our world against our will.

The consequences of this unspoken message are apparent. This devaluation of human life has not only led to violence against the lives of others, but it has also bled over into the questioning of one’s own value (and understandably so). Something unseen is whispering to us that we don’t measure up. When students don’t understand how immeasurably and unconditionally valuable their lives are, their susceptibility to suicide, drugs and drinking, promiscuity, and unplanned pregnancy increases. They seek to fill the emptiness through numbing or gaining the temporary approval of their peers at any cost.

Outward symptoms of an inner problem

Today’s television and radio shows are filled with the merciless degradation of people. The more stinging and destructive the remarks made to callers and participants, the more entertaining the programs are considered to be. We enjoy hearing the hosts of radio and reality television shows make outrageously insulting statements to the guests or contestants. Some shows even tell us that the weeks and months of pain we’d endure at the hands of doctors and the relentless exercise schedule of trainers would all be worth it if people would ultimately approve of us on the outside. Then we’d finally feel better about who we are.

Another surprising symptom of society’s decreased value of human life is an increase in road rage episodes. According to “Aggressive Driving: A Report by Louis Mizell, Inc. for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety,” incidents of aggressive driving have increased by seven percent every year since 1990. (A summary of this report is available here.)

Traffic psychology professor Leon James says angry exchanges are occurring more frequently between drivers and a culture of disrespect now exists on the roads. His formula for road rage:

It’s interesting that even in a traffic study, experts can identify a new cultural norm of disrespect for life.

Rebuilding through purposeful education

So how do we push against this societal wave? We need to purposefully educate our children regarding the value of human life. What do students really need to know? Personal value is found in their individual, intentional, loving creation by God. He made them to reflect His image.

We must also clearly communicate the basis of human worth. Carrie Gordon Earll states, “Scholars note that being created in the image of God (imago Dei) means more than having certain abilities and attributes. It means that humans are the images of God, regardless of what they can or cannot do. To bear the image of the Creator is a privilege extended uniquely to humans. No other “creation” of God can make this claim” (“The Sanctity of Human Life,” Citizen Link, November 24, 1999). The late Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey once said that: when we look to the unborn child, the real issue is not when life begins, but when love begins. God’s love for us began with His dreams about whom He would create each of us to be. This is what gives our lives value. This is what we must communicate clearly and persistently to our children.

 

We must not only affirm life’s value, but also point out the erroneous methods our society practices when determining the value of life, and then we must reject those methods. Years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognized our error in thinking when he stated, “This idea springs from the false assumption that life consists only in its own usefulness to society. It is not perceived that life, created and preserved by God, possesses an inherent right which is wholly independent of its social utility” (Ethics, 1965, page 162).

Replacing the unspoken formula

Even as Christ’s followers, many times we practically buy into the idea that our own value and that of our children comes from productivity, attractiveness, and social status. The unwritten formula that our society uses to determine our worth is:

Unfortunately, this puts a lot of pressure on each one of us to achieve and sustain personal worth. We must replace this formula—in thinking and in practice—with a new one:

A story from L’Arche

Mike Yaconelli tells a poignant story in his book Dangerous Wonder that pinpoints our own misunderstanding of human worth:

I have already mentioned how life altering my experience at L’Arche was. So many of my expectations were shattered that week. I had expected to meet God in the lives of those who were “whole.” Instead, God was hiding in the lives of the “broken,” the mentally and physically challenged—especially in a girl I’ll call Deborah. Her twenty-five-year-old body is ravaged by cerebral palsy and is as cooperative as a limp rag doll. She had to be held by someone at all times. Unable to speak, unable to respond, I wondered (I am embarrassed to admit now) why Henri had included her in our daily Bible studies.

As Mike chooses to take part in a communion service at L’Arche, he describes what takes place:

When Father Nouwen stopped in front of Deborah, her body stopped jerking and moving out of control, her eyes glistened, she opened her mouth to receive the wine and the bread, and there, ever so slightly, I saw her smile! At once the noise in the room was transformed into what I imagined the noise at the nativity would have been like. God was there! His fragrance filled the room. Deborah—the girl who could do nothing, the girl who would never give a talk, the girl who would never dance, the girl who would never write a book or play the piano or sing a song—taught me about the grace of God! For fifty years I had struggled with God’s unconditional love for me; for fifty years I had tried to prove my worthiness to God by busyness; and helpless Deborah might as well have grabbed me by the shoulders and shouted in my face, “God loves you just as you are! Surrender to His love!” I realized God was hiding in Deborah, and I haven’t been the same since.

Value rooted in the image of God

We are of value because God created us as we are—purposefully and with a partial reflection of Himself in each one of us. This truth gives us worth apart from our performance or any qualities that our society deems to be attractive. As we establish this knowledge into our core belief system, we can also begin to understand that if we are of God-placed value, then so are those around us—even those who are different from us and those the world considers to be without value.

In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning asserts,

How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the anti-abortion sticker on the bumper of my car. We are not pro-life simply because we are warding off death. We are pro-life to the extent that we are men and women for others, all others; to the extent that no human flesh is a stranger to us; to the extent that we can touch the hand of another in love; to the extent that for us there are no “others”…The pro-life position is a seamless garment of reverence for the unborn and the age-worn, for the enemy, the Jew, and the quality of life of all people.

The task of the educator

Educators know that most students won’t ponder the implications of truth without a guide. We must help them see the significance of life’s value and lead them to make the connections that will profoundly affect their lives. We must move our students on to the understanding that on the basis of the inestimable worth of their lives and the lives of others, each one has a responsibility and a calling to live while affirming life’s value (Sanctity of Life). In addition, each must choose to preserve his own life of value and pursue God’s purpose—what God dreamed and created him to be. Thus, students are released from the pressure to give up their purity in a misguided effort to affirm their own worth (Purity). And furthermore, each student grows to be convinced that they must courageously affirm the value of human life in their own world, as well as around the world (Social Justice). Thus, we join with God in expressing His love and value of every human life He created.

None of the above understanding comes by accident or osmosis. If we don’t purposefully teach and affirm these truths, our students will drift into the societal norm and assume that the value of life is defined by a person’s abilities and characteristics. This assumption can lead them to casually accept that life is sometimes appropriately expendable.

Whole Life Curriculum

To combat this false thinking, the Whole Life Curriculum is designed to build three elements into the value system of students: the sanctity of life, purity, and social justice. It’s age appropriate and encourages the integration of each of these values into a foundational worldview. A purposeful curriculum, designed for students from kindergarten through twelfth grade, is an essential resource as we attempt to impact how our students see themselves and how they make choices that will affirm their own value and the value of those in the world around them.